Bishop Accountability
  A Cross to Bear
The Pope Has Let Us Down
The sex abuse scandal should've spurred John Paul to clean house.

By Rod Dreher
Wall Street Journal
August 25, 2002

There he was on Sunday, the old lion, John Paul II, preaching to a crowd of two million faithful in his native Poland. His words thundered a condemnation of modern man, who embraces "freedom without truth or responsibility." Said the pope : "He claims for himself the Creator's right to interfere in the mystery of human life. Rejecting divine law and moral principles, he openly attacks the family."

This is the John Paul that many of us orthodox Catholics know and love, at the center of a familiar scene which has never failed to move me to tears of awe and gratitude to God for this holy pope . And yet, the only emotion I feel these days when thinking of this pontificate is one of disappointment.


Why does such a great and good man seem to care so little about the plight of faithful Catholics, both sex-abuse victims and those who have seen their children raped by evil priests, who were in turn protected by derelict bishops? Why has he allowed so many American bishops, nearly all of whom he has appointed, to eviscerate the liturgical, catechetical and pastoral life of the church to the point where we are now living in an undeclared schism?

John Paul's apologists hold that it is vain of Americans to think that a man who has responsibility for a billion Catholics world-wide should stoop to managing the fractious church in America. Besides, how can we be sure how much this frail old man knows? And given his role in bringing down communism, how can we hold against him his failure to govern the Church?

Those are serious questions, but they fade into abstraction when one is confronted by the horror of the sex-abuse scandal, and the decay of faith and morality among the American priesthood and episcopate, which has left so many trusting Catholic laymen and their children vulnerable.

My descendants will surely and rightly call the pope St. John Paul the Great, but that's hard to see when you're figuring out how you're going to get your family through the present storm with its faith in Catholicism intact. You try--humiliatingly--to figure out how to tell your little boy that it can be dangerous to his body and soul to trust priests, the foremost icons of Christ in the daily lives of Catholics.

When considering how this intolerable state came to pass, all roads lead to Rome. In Catholic teaching, the chief responsibilities of a bishop, including the Bishop of Rome, are to teach, sanctify and govern. John Paul has taught and sanctified zealously; his evangelical travels have inspired millions, and his writings about the nobility of human love are a treasure for all mankind.

Yet this pope has largely failed to use the disciplinary authority of his office. This statement will surprise those who see the pope as authoritarian, but it is true.

In serious matters, such as priestly sexual misconduct, abuses in the liturgy, corruption in seminary life, and the rejection of church teaching by Catholic universities and hospitals, the pope has explicitly recognized the crisis, given clear directions for its correction--and done nothing when his orders were ignored or undercut by subordinates in this country. Over the last 30 years, faithful Catholics have found a variety of ways to make known to the Holy See their urgent concern, but most often to no avail.

Even if it has been possible to believe that John Paul had been ignorant of the rape of children, the worst of all scandals, that is obviously no longer the case. The situation of Catholics in Boston is enough to make one weep. Cardinal Bernard Law claims to have offered his resignation, only to have it refused. Rome allows him to remain in office, though his mendacity and corruption are there for all the world to see, and the credibility of the church in Boston is destroyed.

Who keeps him there, and why? Who retains in office a host of American bishops defiled by their indifference to the victims of depraved priests under their authority? Who could remove them with a stroke of his pen? It is hard to judge John Paul, because we don't know what he's had to fight behind the scenes. Still, I find it impossible any longer to give him the benefit of every doubt, as is the custom of many papal loyalists. John Paul must bear partial responsibility for the catastrophe that has befallen us.


When it comes to priestly pederasty, many American bishops have rejected moral law; thus, Catholic families have been attacked. The pope , alas, has no authority to obstruct the culture of death in the world, but that is not true within the church. Unless he takes dramatic action to restore the church to holiness--starting with deposing this legion of bad bishops--his criticism of modern society will ring hollow in the heart of this faithful American Catholic. And that is painful beyond words to say.

Mr. Dreher is a senior writer for National Review and National Review Online.

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